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Opinion and Analysis: International

Venezuela & Iran: Whither the revolutions?

June was a busy month for two of Washington's real ‘Axis of Evil'. Venezuela's Chavez completed his nationalisation of oil and Iran's Ahmedinejad stemmed a Western-backed colour revolution, leaving both bad boys in place, muses Eric Walberg
What drives US foreign policy? Is it primarily the domestic economy, as it logically should be, or, as many argue, the powerful Israel lobby, or as other argue, the need to secure energy sources? Of course, the answer is all three, in varying degrees depending on the geopoltical importance of the country in question. And woe to any country that threatens any of the above.
Russia is perhaps a special case, as US politics was dependent for so long on the anti-communist Cold War that ideologues found it impossible to dispense with this useful bugaboo even after the collapse of Communism. But it was not only Sovietologists like Condoleezza Rice that perversely prospered from this obsession, but the US domestic economy itself, which was transformed into what is best described as the military-industrial complex (MIC). It would take very little to placate today's Russia -- pull in NATO's horns and stop pandering to the Russophobes in Eastern Europe -- but that would hurt the MIC and would hamper the US plans for empire and oil. So it remains an enemy of choice, though not part of the Axis of Evil.
This crude characterisation by Bush/Cheney lumped North Korea, Iraq and Iran together as the worst of the worst. With the US invasion of Iraq, the current score is one down, two to go. But North Korea is a red herring. It is merely a very useful Cold War foil, beloved of the MIC, justifying its many useless, lethal weapons programmes. A popular whipping boy, a bit of innocent ideological entertainment.
Without Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and ignoring Korea, we are left with Iran. But Bush could easily have added Venezuela to his list, as it is these two countries that pose the greatest real threat to the US empire. Both have charismatic leaders who not openly denounce US and Israeli empire but do something about it. And both have large, nationalised oil sectors. Chavez's successful defiance of the US has directly inspired Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay to elect socialist leaders and given Cuba a new lease on life. Ahmedinejad has defied the many Israel-imposed bans on supporting the Palestinian resistance and even publically questioned the legitimacy of Israel itself. These bold and principled men are thereby pariahs, albeit useful ones for the MIC, along with their Cold War ghost Kim Jong Il. 
That is the catch. While the empire officially frets, the US military-based economy thrives on its official enemies. It would collapse without them. This is the supreme irony to be noted by observers of what can only be described as the bizarre and contradictory world of US foreign policy.
Venezuela and Iran are indeed threats to the US empire. President Hugo Chavez not only thoroughly nationalised the oil sector after the crippling strike led by oil executives in 2002-03, but proceeded to use the revenues to transform his country, putting it on the albeit bumpy road to socialism -- subsidised basic goods, mass literacy and free health care. He has even been providing poor Americans with discount gas. "The oil belongs to all Venezuelans," Chavez emphasised to reporters last month in Argentina, after the government announced it was taking over oil service companies along with US-owned gas compression units, adding to the heavy oil projects Venezuela took over in 2007. Natural gas looks like it will be next. The point of this is to "regain full petroleum sovereignty," that is, full political sovereignty. No more attempted colour revolutions for Venezuela.
Which brings us to Iran. When Mahmoud Ahmedinejad took office in 2005, with the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he tried to wrest control of key ministries, especially oil and the government's National Iranian Oil Company (NOIC), from the Rafsanjani/ Mousavi capitalist elite, replacing officials with his own choices -- primarily from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It was not till 2007 that he was able to install his candidate for oil minister, also head of the NIOC, Gholamhossein Nozari. Like Chavez, he proceeded to use state oil revenues to consolidate his base among the poor, something which the so-called reformists under his predecessor Mohammed Khatami or earlier nonreformists under Rafsanjani/ Mousavi were not noted for.
While Hashemi Rafsanjani was parliamentary speaker with Mirhossein Mousavi his prime minister in the 1980s, younger Iranians, including Ahmedinejad, were fighting in the IRGC (many martyring themselves) in the war with Iraq in the 1980s. Rafsanjani became Iran 's first president in 1989 and added to his family's vast fortune, much of it connected with oil, during his privatisation programme when he opened the oil industry to private Iranian contractors. This continued under the "reformist" Khatami, who took over the presidency in 1997. 
Ahmedinejad's ascendancy in 2005 on a platform to fight and eliminate the "oil mafia" confirmed the IRGC as the underlying force confronting Rafsanjani and the reformists. Throughout the 2009 electoral campaign, Ahmedinejad attacked his opponents as leaders of the corrupt elite, now trying to claw back control. 
The elite had had enough, and the election ruckus last month was their last stand against the clearly populist, essentially leftist Ahmedinejad (in the West labelled a "hardliner"). Some pundits call Ahmedinejad's decisive win a coup d'etat by the IRGC, but the recent demonstrations in Teheran look eerily similar to those in Caracas in 2002-03 when Venezuelan society was paralysed by its economic elite, mobilising its own Gucci crowd, strongly backed by the US, protesting a populist president's determination to use oil revenues to help the common people. Chavez risked his life in the process, but his careful planning foiled the plotters and he survived to carry out his agenda. Whether Ahmedinejad can do the same, and to what extent the IRGC is a vehicle for promoting social welfare is a drama which is only now unfolding.
The Western media has uniformly denounced the Iranian elections, with no real evidence, as fraudulent, much as it denounced the many elections that Chavez had to undergo in the face of US-inspired strikes and even a military coup, before the opposition and its US backers relented. The US has generously financed Iranian expatriate dissidents and has penetrated Iranian society with the clear intent to overthrow Ahmedinejad, exactly like they did in Venezuela, though it is rarely mentioned in the Western press. 
The US policy of using soft power to undermine unfriendly governments is well known to both Latin American socialists and Iranian clerics. Khamenei insisted in his sermon last week that Iran would not tolerate the green "colour revolution" underway. No wonder that Ahmedinejad, Chavez and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are such good friends. They have much in common.
In similar electoral contests in Latin America between nationalist-populists and pro-Western liberals, the populists have consistently won in fair elections, so the results in Iran should come as no surprise. Past examples include Peron in Argentina and, most recently, Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Lula da Silva in Brazil, all of whom have consistently polled 60 per cent or more of the vote in free elections. The people in these countries prefer social welfare over unrestrained markets, national security over alignments with military empires.
The parallel between Iran and Venezuela coincides with a flowering of relations between Iran and Latin American countries as it seeks a way out of the US-imposed blockade. Iran will help develop Bolivia's oil and gas sector, has opened a trade office in Ecuador, and entered into agreements with Nicaragua, Cuba, Paraguay, Brazil and, of course, Venezuela. Council of Hemispheric Affairs analyst Braden Webb reports that "Venezuela and Iran are now gingerly engaged in an ambitious joint project, putting on-line Veniran, a production plant that assembles 5,000 tractors a year, and plans to start producing two Iranian-designed automobiles to provide regional consumers with the ‘first anti-imperialist cars'." 
Perhaps what upsets the US most about Ahmedinejad is his continued attempts to establish an Iranian Oil Bourse in the Iranian Free Trade Zone on the island of Kish, an idea which Chavez heartily approves of. The bourse is meant to attract international oil trading to the Middle East and to help move international trade away from the dollar as the oil currency, currently accounting for 65 per cent of trade. Over half of Iran's oil business is now conducted in euros, despite the EU's support for the US boycott. An indication of just how evil the US considers this move is the fact that his Evil Axis colleague Saddam Hussein was executed not long after switching his accounts to euros. Note that Kim Jong Il remains comfortably in place despite his own penchant for euros.
Both the Venezuelan and Iranian thorns have incensed Washington for daring to use their oil revenues to redistribute wealth in their societies and then organise resistance to US hegemony in their respective neighbourhoods. They are examples which continue to inspire and which pose a threat to US imperial policy, both international and domestic. For what better way to solve all the ills of US society -- lack of secure health care, poverty, violence -- than dismantling the MIC and initiating a foreign policy based on peace rather than war?  
The big difference between these two thorns, of course, is Islam and Iran's interference with the US-Israeli agenda. Now that the oil companies have resigned themselves to Venezuela's new assertiveness, they and their government spokesmen are not so concerned with trying to overthrow Chavez. However, the extra weight of the Israel lobby in Washington makes sure that another Iranian revolution remains at the top of the list of Obama's things-to-do.
Another curious difference is that US attempts to turn Venezuela's neighbours against it backfired, as they came to Chavez's defence and followed his example, while similar efforts to conspire against Iran have had considerable success. 
The schism in both Venezuelan and Iranian societies is very real and is being taken advantage of by the US and friends, who are doing their "best" to engineer a collapse of the populist governments to make room for more US-friendly colour revolutions. But there is too much Yankee baggage for this to work anymore. It is time for a colour revolution at home.

This article is from and can be read in its original form here


Iran and Venezuela

I'll add my name to those around the world who think Chavez is making a big mistake by standing by the regime in Iran. I understand the strategic objectives and the reasons (many of which are no doubt "good" in some immediate sense) but in the bigger picture this kind of thing undermines the global struggle for peace and social justice. Never mind being a slap in the face to the thousands of socialists, marxists, communists and others who have died at the hands of the religious, pro-capitalist fanatics who run Iran. Come on Chavez - we need your leadership on this!


There are some inaccuracies in the article.

Ahmedinejad is not a populist and most certainly not a leftist.

Lula Da Silva is not a populist or leftist either.

Chavez can't afford to be too picky with which foreign leaders he allies himself with. He needs as many allies as possible to stop American and European imperialism. Ahmedinejad is no saint and no champion of the working class and Iran's government has committed many human rights violations but the same could be said about the large majority of governments in the world. The same leftists who criticize Chavez being allies with Ahmadinejad don't seem to mind his being allies with Fidel and Raul Castro who also have a long history of human rights violations. Chavez would have very few governments as allies if he only allied himself with human rights champions.

Is it like that?!?

First of all, I wonder if any of the writers about Iran and her affairs have ever been in my country or know a word of Persian. That's a question I always ask and rarely receiving an answer. The thing is that without the enough knowledge about the complex situation in Iran and its politics one can hardly comment on it.
Recently, we have had an election here. There are millions (yes millions!) in my country who believe there has been vast riggings. The documents about the riggins are hundreds. Many of us go even further; we believe the regime not only has stolen our votes and never has counted them but also it has planned and implemented a COUP against the will of millions, about republicanism. They want us to kiss off elections and forget about ballot boxes. For that, they have ideological justificaiton adapted from the most reactionary interpretation of Shiaa Isalm where the only decision maker is velayat faqih (the leader) and the population has just one responsibility : obeying him.
You see guys, we are living in this country and the hardships of it. We face a brutal murderer regime so that when we protest (a silent peaceful protest) we are shot into the chests and heads. The realities of life here are so clear and evident to us; that leaves us no hesitation of who is who doing what. Then at night I come home and check leftist and progressive sites and I "read" that we have a progressive president and we millions flooding onto the streets are motivated by CIA and western conspiracies. Believe me; this is the most painful part of my life these days!
In this article the mistakes are numerous. How am I supposed to answer them? Who said there is an alliance between Musavi and Rafsanjani? Mr Ahmadinejad? But he is a liar. We call him a liar. He -as Musavi- once called him claims the white to be black and vise versa. He is a "phenomenon" who claims two times two makes 10 not 4. Musavi was our prime minister during the 8 year war against Iraq. He is FAMOUS here to follow the socialist policies. During his time in power, the poor and the working class had a much much better level of life. Mr Ahmadinejad with all his deafening claims of supporting poor has increased the Gene index, has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars of oil revenue. During his 4 years of presidency we had a huuuuuuuuge revenue from oil: 147 USD per barrel. Can you believe it? And what we have now? Nothing as our national saving, a two digit inflation, skyrocketing prices of goods, house, food, the increased number of young ones using drugs and a huge army of prostitutes on the streets.
I don’t want to mention his policies in jailing tens of students and intellectuals, worker associations activists (i.e. the bus driver syndicate), women’s right activists and many of those who ever dared to say “No!” to suppressions. Believe me; none were supporting US or her allies. I don’t want to mention Ahmadinejad’s administration’s policies regarding books, magazines and free speech. I also don’t go in details about their moral police beating and arresting the women on squares and streets of our cities just because of having lipstick on their lips. The sexual quota in university is another innovation of his time and the suppressions against the independent voices among the clergies is just another example. As we say in Iran, if I wanted to mention all his failures I would have needed hundreds of kilos of paper.
What we see in Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy? Just a harsh rheortic, bare words against the US. What the achievements? Nothing! To give an example, his holocaust denial in Durban recently made the EU countries forget about Isreal’s bloodshed in Gaza. These are Mr Ahamdinejad’s real "achievements" of foreign policy. And I just wonder when we leftists want to learn this simple truth; to be anti imperialist you can not be repressive inside your country. Mr Ahmadinejad or whoever shouting against imperialism should do that relying on his own population; you can not kill and jail inside and fight against imperialism outside.
What goes on in Iran HAS NOTHING to do with Venezuela, Mr. Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. We Iranian leftist are very sad of Mr. Chavez’s historic mistake in supporting a murderer regime. Our women and men are being killed on the streets, their chests are torn apart by machetes of the plain clothes and the militia and their heads are triggered by merciless bullets, please don’t tell me what I see here on our streets are lies. We already have decided here whom we face and what objectives we follow, binding us to the US and CIA is just giving much credit to them and paves the way for them to try to hijack our movement.

Iran and Venezuela

100% support for the wise comments from John Richmond!

I understand Venezuela's anti-US imperialist solidarity with Ahmadinejad - but surely the moral compass must kick in when Chavez realises his "true" comrades are being persecuted by Ahmadinejad's fascist rule. Chavez - these are your comrades - who have supported you, have respected you... can you in good consciousness align yourself with this right-wing capitalist regime?

We must oppose U.S. imperialist threats against Iran — however we shouldn't rally to the Islamic theocrats defense simply because they are also being targeted by the United States and Israel.

Farewell to democracy in Iran. Chavez supports what?

I actually doubt about the point of view of the author of this article regarding A.h.m.a.d.i.n.e.j.a.d (A.N.), his stance against U.S. Empire, and his benevolence! After clearing out this matter, I’ll discuss Mr. Chavez and his alliance with A.N.

There is a bunch of facts that readers should know about I.r.a.n, and specifically A.N. Given some tangible facts of living standards of I.r.a.nians, and political events in this country, it is implied that not only A.N. is not a popular, benevolent, hard working and trustworthy president, but he is also, a fraudulent, liar, populist, radical, brutal, shameless, malicious, and “thirsty of power” jerk.

1- There’s recently been a presidential election in I.r.a.n, in which A.N. has claimed winner. A 90 pages report regarding cheating in this election has been published by his rivals (mainly Mr. Mousavi), which was easily taken for granted by I.r.a.nian authorities! The “supreme council”, of which some members were directly chosen from the A.N.’s government itself, was the authority liable to consider this report! In a very funny gesture after reviewing 10% of total ballot boxes, they noted that “more than 3 million extra ballot papers were found to be voted for A.N. (3 million extra votes, in only 10% of boxes), but according to the fact that these extra votes would not change the results of the election, we (supreme council) consider it trivial!!!”. What a shameless gesture!!!
2- People were killed in riots of I.r.a.n. Family members of killed people, are demanded by I.r.a.nian authorities to A: Pay a 10,000 $ bill for retrieving the body of their children, B: give warrant that there will be no memorial, and C: funeral should be taken silently. About 10,000 people were jailed during recent manifestation, and you know what the main “motos” of these manifestations were? “Silence” written on a piece of paper and “where my vote is”! Such civil a rally and such a brutal reaction by A.N. Of course he is a brutal and thirsty of power jerk!
3- A.N. always claims that human rights are ignored in Palestine, Lebanon, etc. I.r.a.nian TV always shows live reports from Palestine, and rave about savage Israilies. How come that all of foreign TV’s are banned from broadcasting news from I.r.a.n during these days, and Killers from HAMAS and HIZBOLLAH are recruited in the anti-riot police of I.r.a.n? What an interesting controversy!!! Thanks to cell-phone cameras, twitter, and facebook, the entire world (except the author of this article) knows about these bitter facts.
4- Many news-papers have been closed, and too many bloggers and journalists have been imprisones in 4 years of presidency of A.N. Student activists have been ousted from universities. There is always parasite waves on satellite channels, internet speed has been downed to almost zero, and foreign media who report about I.r.a.n are being accused of interfering in internal matters of the country. The question is “Why A.N. is such afraid of the MEDIA?”.
5- And I won’t talk of economic fiasco of A.N.

Now that Mr. Chavez is one of the scarce persons who have congratulated A.N. on his fraudulent victory in this recent election, while there is a real Coup DeTat in I.r.a.n, a peaceful mind will deduce two things I presume: 1- Chavez is an identical malevolent person, 2- He is an illiterate president with little or no knowledge about human rights. In both cases I think Chavez has put a big big question mark in minds of people who once used to think of him as a good person.

Debunking Ahjmadinejad's "leftist" credentials

I appreciated laila's insider account of what is happening in Iran. It's a shame Chavez is letting his close alliance with Iran to trump his better judgment; Iranian protestors are as much victims as Gazans were, and in that case Chavez commendably spoke out against those even greater Israeli atrocities. Unfortunately, like so many leaders, however, he is inconsistent and even hypocritical, and this is a big letdown. More inexplicable, though, is Eric Walberg's defense of Ahmadinejad and casting him in the same light as Chavez. This is pure ideology at work, and I'm very disappointed as a regular reader of this website that such an article would be posted without any riposte or disclaimer that it does not (hopefully) reflect the views of as a whole, and especially Gregory Wilpert. If you are reading this, Gregory, please carefully read the following from ZNet compiled by several progressive political scientists, especially the eminent Stephen Shalom, on what a carefully considered progressive stance on Iran should be. I hope you will reconsider these kinds of postings to your website and allow more critical views of Chavez without conflating them with support for the Venezuelan opposition or US imperialism: